Two exhibits opened yesterday at The Noguchi Museum, both about collaboration — and women.
“Noguchi was a worker and a lover — a lover of women, ideas and art,” Museum Director Jenny Dixon said.
The larger show, “Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930,” focuses on the time Noguchi spent in Beijing sponging up tips from established artist Qi Baishi.
“Baishi is called China’s Picasso,” the exhibition’s curator, Natsu Oyobe, said.
The relationship was somewhat one-sided, Oyobe added. Noguchi includes his time with Baishi in his biography but Noguchi is not mentioned in Baishi’s chronicles. This omission is not surprising because even though Noguchi transformed into a great artist, at the time the 27-year-old was still finding his niche, sticking mostly to his European training.
The American had not yet used traditional Asian painting methods on scrolls with ink. He combined this style with his love of the nude form — especially women.
“It was quite radical,” Oyobe said.
Although a departure from Baishi’s works, within these nudes Baishi’s influence can be seen.
Noguchi began drawing much larger and on more rectangular pieces of paper. He also focused on varying his brushstroke from thick to thin and using washes. In the works, broad swipes of ink over the fluidly sketched outline of a figure convey movement.
Noguchi also played with open space, which Oyobe pointed out in Chinese academic painting “wasn’t empty at all.” The blank area served as a place for the figure to move to or leave from, hinting at background and motion.
These were all notions he brought to his collaboration with modern dance icon Ruth Page, revealed in the second of the two new exhibits, called “Space, Choreographed: Noguchi and Ruth Page.”
“This is the next story,” Senior Curator Dakin Hart said.
In 1933 Noguchi and Page began an affair. They saw each other as much as possible when they were both in one place and wrote letters to each other every day for the year they were together. Chicago was home base for Page.
During his time with Page and later on, Noguchi kept the ink wash style he learned from Baishi.
There are many beautiful drawings of Page by Noguchi in his loose and fluid brushstroke.
Noguchi created a sack outfit that made Page look like a manta ray. This unique form was the basis of many drawings and the aluminum sculpture titled “Miss Expanding Universe” that looks like an abstracted angel with arms straight out like a T.
Unlike that of Baishi and Noguchi, Page and Noguchi’s artistic relationship was very two-sided.
Page went on to create a dance called “Expanding Universe” using the sack. They collaborated again when Noguchi created the costumes for Page’s show “The Bells,” based on Edgar Allen Poe’s poem of the same name.
Hart admits that it’s cliche to say that Noguchi embodies east meets west, but goes on to add that the cliche is quite fitting and complimentary.
“Noguchi hybridizes such unique influences,” Hart said.
Noguchi was a world traveler. From east to west and north to south, all these places made an impact on his work as seen in these two exhibits.